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House Democrats down on Nixon mandated cuts

Thursday, April 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:38 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 29, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's legislature sent the governor the state's education budgets Wednesday with members of the governor's own party taking different public stances on the spending reductions than the Democratic governor had recommended in his original budget plan.

In the Senate, Democrats remained largely silent as the Senate passed budgets that would virtually freeze state funding for public schools and impose a cut for state universities of about 5 percent.

In the House, however, Democrats were vocal in their attacks about the size of a budget that their own governor had recommended.

House Party Whip Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, called the budget "morally out of balance," while House Democratic Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said the House failed to consider ways to generate more revenue for the state.

"All we've done is cut, cut, cut," LeVota said.

Democratic critics in the House complained that the Republican-controlled legislature should have considered revenue increases and reductions in tax credits that are awarded to businesses and other interests.

In a session with education leaders last week, Gov. Jay Nixon had urged lawmakers to adopt reductions in tax credits. But the governor's call immediately was rejected by House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who warned that changes in state tax credits could undermine the state's economic recovery.

After Nixon presented his budget recommendations to the legislature in January, he subsequently urged lawmakers to cut his budget plan by about $500 million. Nixon said in early March that his recommendations needed to be cut because of an unexpected continuing decline in state revenues and growing uncertainty that Congress would approve legislation that would provide $300 million the state had expected. This budget's fiscal year starts July 1.

The House subsequently had cut the governor's original recommendation by about $200 million while the Senate had approved a reduction of about $500 million.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate approved the major portion of a package of budget bills approved by a House-Senate conference committee that had been working on resolving differences between the House and Senate versions.

House Budget Committee Chair Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said that final budget plan is $484 million below Nixon's original recommendation.

While Senate Democrats on the conference committee approved the final package, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, was the only Democrat in the House to sign off on any of the conference committee recommendations.

Kelly said he would support the budget, as a vote of confidence in the Budget chair.

The final conference committee package would underfund the School Foundation Formula, the system by which elementary and secondary public schools are funded, by roughly $100 million. The budget would also reduce funding for the Mental Health Department by nearly $20 million.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said although she and some House Democrats may disagree with Nixon about some aspects of the budget, it isn't indicative of a divide between the two.

"He's got a role to play, and so do we," she said.

Lampe said she didn't sign documents for any of the budgets she considered in the conference committee because she disagreed with the committee.

"The values of that committee were not mine," she said.

Lampe said she has not spoken with Nixon recently.

Nixon's spokesman, Jack Cardetti, said he was not sure which legislators the governor had been in contact with about the budget.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said her office is concerned that the budget before the legislature relies on legislation that has not yet passed, including Medicaid cost containment, changes to the retirement system for state government workers and the elimination of a couple of state holidays for government workers.

She said Nixon supports these changes, but Kelly said he thinks these bills will fail because Nixon and Republican leaders have not been aggressive in drumming up support for them.

Even if those spending-reduction measures are approved, some legislators warned that the governor still will have to make cuts in the budget through spending withholdings that could well exceed $100 million.


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